Imagine this: A man proposes to the woman he loves. She excitedly accepts. But just as he’s about to slip the diamond ring on her finger, he says: “I think it’s only fair to tell you as soon as we have a child, I’m moving you down the ladder of my affections. Enjoy top rung while you’ve got it. Depending on how many kids we have, you could lose big; but don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”
Do you think that woman would be so excited to accept a ring after that speech? Not if she’s smart. But women do this, essentially, to men all the time. Worse, they don’t warn them it’s coming.
It’s not right or fair. When a man and a woman marry, their relationship must remain primary when children come. And it’s very important it does for at least these reasons:
- It’s the parent’s responsibility to model a healthy husband/wife relationship to their children. Your home is where they learn how to be a loving wife or husband.
- When children realize they rank higher in importance than their father, they learn to work it. Mom is manipulated and Dad is marginalized.
- When children usurp a husband’s place in the priority of importance, affections, and attention, the marital relationship is the loser. There’s a reason so many divorces take place after the children grow up. It’s hard to make love last when you’ve put your kids first.
I’m not saying infants and little toddlers aren’t exhausting, high-maintenance people. Their needs are paramount because they can’t do basics for themselves. If you don’t provide all they need, you go to jail. I raised infants and toddlers. I get it.
What I am saying is children need to know, as soon as they can know it, that they may be your little prince/princess, but they are nobody’s king/queen. Your home is the best place for them to learn their place because as soon as they step outside your walls, no one else will treat your kid like a monarch. The world has a word for kids who haven’t been taught they’re not the center of the universe: brat. You’ve known brats. The world has a word for kids who haven’t been taught they’re not the center of the universe: brat. Click To Tweet
A practical example
So here’s an example of what I’m talking about looks like in everyday life. The other day my daughter was cooking supper in the kitchen when her husband walked in, scooped her close, and began to dance with her. Their 6-year-old son came up and hugged both their legs – wanting to join in. The kid’s-come-first crowd would think: “That’s great! Let the kid have what he wants and bring him into the circle of love.” But my son-in-law recognized it as a teachable moment for his son. He shooed him away declaring: “This is daddy’s time with mommy!”
Was the 6-year old disappointed? Yeah, a bit. But what did he learn? He learned he’s not king. He learned dad values and protects his share of mom’s attention and affections. And he learned that if dad honors mom with value, dad probably expects he should too. (And if it had been his mother that shooed him away, he’d have learned the same things from her angle.)
My grandson probably couldn’t verbalize all that, but it’ll process in his mind. Any temporary disappointment pales in comparison to the emotional security gained in knowing his parents are primarily devoted to each other. Besides, he knows it’s not an all or nothing deal for him. A child can cope with the idea they’re not loved best if they still know they’re loved well.A child can cope with the idea they're not loved best if they still know they're loved well. Click To Tweet
The added challenges in blended families
The temptation to put children first is higher in blended families than homes of origin. Parents who bring children into a second marriage can also bring feelings of guilt (regardless of their divorce circumstances.) They fall into the trap of overcompensating and convince themselves putting their kids first is the noble thing to do. And yet, it’s even more critical to stop putting your kids first in a subsequent marriage.
I’ll write about why and what it takes to successfully navigate this trap in my next post.